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Disturbing spate of market fires

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Against the backdrop of a decrepit and ill-equipped fire service infrastructure in the country, there have been genuine concerns that the frequent market fires in several states could only wreck more havoc. This is not what we should be discussing at this time in Africa’s most populous country. 

There is hardly any state in the federation that has not experienced one market fire incident or another. From Lagos to Maiduguri and Onitsha to Sokoto, the story is the same – fire disasters ravaging markets with lives lost and millions of naira worth of property destroyed, which compounds the suffering and poverty in the land. The catalogue of fire disasters is long and worrisome.

There are unintended consequences. Some years back, the popular Tejuosho Market in Yaba was destroyed by fire. The Lagos State Government, Stormberg Engineering Limited, and First Bank of Nigeria, in a public-private partnership arrangement, reconstructed the market into a mega shopping plaza that virtually shut out the original shops due to exorbitant rent.

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On November 6, 2019, just as traders were stock-piling wares in their shops for Christmas sales, a multistory building surrounding the popular Balogun market in Lagos was gutted by massive fire that blazed in the early hours of the day. Traders whose shops were razed in the market known for its wide selection of colourful Nigerian fabrics were shocked and devastated as they watched their means of livelihood go up in flames.

Firefighters battled the flames with a fire truck spraying water unto the blaze. By midday, the fire had engulfed five-story buildings on the edge of the market, with billowing thick black smoke filling the sky.

Balogun is a busy market that spans over many blocks in Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre and largest city. It is one of the country’s largest markets for colourful Nigerian fabrics and clothes. It was not clear how many casualties were recorded apart from one policeman who died after debris fell on him while on duty.

On January 12, 2018, no fewer than 100 shops, equipment and goods worth millions of naira were razed by an inferno at a section of the Sango Plank Market in Ibadan. The market had witnessed many such disasters in the past, with the last razing over 300 shops. 

Indications were that the fire started at about 2 am in the night. The authorities said the entire market and surrounding buildings could have been burnt down but for the swift intervention of the Oyo State Fire Service, which was commendable. It was alleged that arsonists caused the fire. Most of the traders incurred heavy losses.

On October 17, 2019, fire disaster wrecked the Ochanja market in Onitsha, Anambra State, following an inferno that engulfed the bustling commercial city east of the River Niger. The fire was ignited after a petrol tanker, laden with fuel, fell into a gutter and spilled its contents, thereby sparking a fire. 

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Six buildings and shops were destroyed. About seven people, including a nursing mother and her baby, were killed in the fire.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials said 2000 traders were affected. The Anambra State Government launched a support campaign to raise money to assist the affected traders. But that could not have been adequate compensation for all losers. 

On November 19, 2018, overN10 million worth of goods too was consumed by fire at the Nkwo Ngwa Market fire in Aba. Eyewitnesses said the fire started at 3:29 pm. While this was going on, the Delta State Government was working to assist victims of the Timber market fire disaster in the state.

In Kano, several market fire disasters have been recorded in recent times. On February 6, 2019, the fire destroyed 70 shops in Yan’Katako Market in Rijayar Lemo area of Kano. Reports said 30 of the shops were razed.

June 10, 2019, the fire reportedly gutted six shops in Kofar Ruwa Market (Kasuwar ‘Yan Rodi) in Kano. On April 14, 2019, the Kano State Fire Service said 35 temporary shops were destroyed by fire at Kurmin Yan-nama Market in Kano State.

Again, on November 18, 2018, the Spokesman of the Kano State Fire Service, Alhaji Saidu Mohammed revealed that 77 shops were destroyed in Kano Market.

And on Feb 7, 2019, the Kano State Fire Service said the fire had destroyed 70 temporary shops at Yan’Katako Market in Rijayar Lemo area of Kano. The list could go on and on.

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It is remarkable that while some other countries in the Western world are battling with natural disasters resulting from unprecedented widespread wild fires, partly as a result of climate change-related heat wave, Nigeria’s own disaster are mostly manmade. Australia and the United States experienced such deadly fires.

The frequent fire outbreaks that have ravaged several markets across the country are preventable if the government and traders could team up to put preventive measures. 

For instance, power fluctuation, which has been blamed for some of the fires, could be curtailed if the markets are left without public power supply and the use of generators strictly regulated.

Furthermore, private security should be beefed up in the markets in addition to a police patrol, especially, at night. There should be closing time in the markets. Most markets have adopted 6 pm. 

Besides, inaccessibility to the markets when there is a fire outbreak has been compounding the problem. The authorities and traders should be extra vigilant to guard against fire outbreaks. Fire prevention should be a priority while measures should be put in place to stem the ugly tide. The starting point in the main is the commitment to building modern markets by the local governments. This is a responsibility that should not be left to state and federal governments. It is a local affair  

Traders should be sensitized on the need to be fire conscious, including observance of no smoking. Cooking by restaurants and bukkas should be closely monitored.

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